"On beyond Ong:" the bases of a revised theory of orality and literacy

51XKNF2K9JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_J. Coleman’s Public reading and the reading public is excellent book that goes way beyond its ostensible medieval specialization, and offers a comprehensive critique of the antiquated ethnocentrism of the Ong / Goody approach to orality and literacy. This approach, which has been called the thesis of the “great divide” [Finnegan] and the “literalist civilization-theory” [Boehme]), is also reproduced in McLuhan at various points. (But McLuhan was careful not to have his thinking bifurcated so overtly.)

Coleman’s book also provides and operationalizes a set of terms and taxonomies that can be used in the place of the grand Ong/Goody theory or meta-narrative. All of this is discussed in the context of Coleman’s introduction of an “ethnography” of media practices which has broad (and yet untapped) potential.

Here’s a bit of Coleman’s critique of Ong:

There is no question that, over the course of Western history, literacy rose and its technologies improved, nor is there any question that these events had many important consequences or that excellent histories can be and have been written tracing these developments. There are, however, serious problems with histories that adopt the distorting premises of “strong” orality/literacy theory. With primary value and focus always on the end-product – what Kenneth George calls the “inscribed modern” (1990: 19) – such histories become a teleological progression from less to ever more desirable intellectual states.

For more of this critique, see:

For more on new terminology/methodology, see (for example) the glossary:

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